What Is Psychotic Depression?

From time to time, we hear stories in the news of formerly good mothers “snapping” and injuring or even killing their children. These are examples of women suffering from episodes of psychotic depression. Obviously, this is a severe condition that requires prompt medical intervention.

Defining Psychotic Depression

People who are depressed may not feel like themselves. They often have exaggerated feelings of guilt or worthlessness and may be more sensitive to criticism or rejection. However, most people with major depression remain in touch with reality.

Psychotic depression is a different story. In people who have this condition, depression is accompanied by strange hallucinations or delusions. Delusions are beliefs, often bizarre, that have no basis in reality.

For example, a woman with psychotic depression might be convinced that her children have been possessed by demons, that aliens are controlling her behavior, or that government agents are following her. She may hear voices that confirm these beliefs. Those voices are hallucinations.

People who have psychotic depression often recognize that their thoughts are distorted and may try to hide those thoughts from other people. In contrast, with other psychotic conditions, such as schizophrenia, people are convinced that their distorted thoughts or experiences actually reflect reality and often express frustration when no one believes them.


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Psychotic Depression: How Common?

Experts say psychotic depression is more common than most people think, affecting up to 25 percent of people with severe, hospital-level depression.

Yet relatively little research has been done on this condition and no medication is specifically approved for treating it. Usually, treatment involves combining antidepressant and antipsychotic medications. Sometimes additional treatment is needed, such as electroconvulsive therapy.

If you think you or anyone you know is suffering from psychotic depression, it is important to get medical help immediately, as the combination of depressed mood and distorted thoughts or feelings can result in someone harming themselves or others.

For further reading on the subject of depression, see these University Health News posts:

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